Monday, March 24, 2014

Yes, Alanis, there is an irony

There's a hate group that stands on the corner in my neighborhood shouting about how white people are going to Hell, that they're an abomination created by Satan, that they're demons. They shout anti-gay statements and hate women as well, not to mention believing that Christians worship false gods in the form of the Trinity. The group, called the Black Hebrew Israelites, believe that they are the only authentic descendents of the ancient Israelites and that white people are conspirators who hide this "truth" from black people. They bellow out scripture without realizing how they preach the exact opposite of the words coming from their mouths as they read. Columbia Heights is one of at least two locations in DC where they are permitted to preach their hate to the public, the other known location being Chinatown. I have watched impressionable kids become memorized by the power of their forceful delivery, and every now and then down and out black men who spend their time on the square can be seen nodding their heads in agreement. It's typical cult behavior - prey on the weak. Children are included among their ranks. They hate women, too. I have been called a whore and an abomination as I've walked past them, in addition to cracker and white demon. I have flipped them off on multiple occasions while saying nothing. A friend of mine was screamed at for being gay (he's not), and the group is known to point to people walking by and insult them with hate speech. Here are videos of them at Chinatown. Thanks to whomever captured it.

On Saturday, I took it to the next level and knocked over their sign as I walked past. I was getting a sandwich at a place on the corner and I had no choice but to walk by them. On impulse I stuck out my hand as I walked by their sign - constructed with black-painted 2x4s and pictures of Israel, Bible quotes, and Africans printed from the Internet - and knocked it to the ground, no harm to the sign. I entered the shop and proceeded to place my order and sit down, still angry that they are allowed to stand there day after day and preach their hate, that the community just lets them stay without protest. Two cops were in the restaurant, one black, one white. I thought nothing of it and ate my sandwich and played on my phone. I was on Twitter when the black cop approached me. The runts of the group had told their leader I had knocked over their sign and he found the cop and inquired about pressing charges. It's like he knew the cop was there. And he waited until the white cop left.

Oh, the irony of being told I may have committed a hate crime against a group that exists to hate! That their cheapo sign of internet pics was "property" that could have been damaged! First of all, it was not my intent to damage the sign, merely to make a statement to them that they were unwanted. Of course, I know that "stuff" is the real religion of this country, that it is valued more than human life, and even a piece of junk is worth wasting a cop's time (while real crime runs rampant in this neighborhood). I know I shouldn't have done it, knew it even as I was doing it, but how do you make a statement to people whose ideology is so firmly entrenched in the darkest corners of their minds?

I don't hate those people. I don't hate any people. I hate actions, behavior, indifference or ignorance or disconnect, but I'd sit down and have a beer and a conversation with any of them. Anyone who knows me or has seen anything I've said online know how much I hate racism and bigotry. (I know, I know, I hate that "anyone who knows me" excuse. But I'm pretty sure I have a good track record on this issue.) Tribalism is the root of so many of the world's problems, whether it's race, religion, nationality, family, or ideology. That's why I can't stand how a hate group stands on the corner of my neighborhood preaching how one kind of people are an abomination against God.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16
Show me in that statement where it says anything about race or any of the artificial labels we give ourselves to declare our difference from one another. It says "whoever." That the Black Hebrew Israelites or the KKK or whatever other so-called religious group that proclaims to believe in the Bible chooses to ignore that negates their entire belief system. Hypocrisy abounds in religion.
This is my neighborhood. This is where I live. This is where my friends and neighbors go about their daily lives, buying their groceries, picking up their dry cleaning, and having their happy hours. I would knock a sign over if the KKK stood in my neighborhood - god, would I love to do so - or any homophobe group or anti-Semitic group or anti-Muslim group. My blood boils at the thought of those groups, with their hoods of cowardice or their "Adam and Steve signs" or whatever token they use to define themselves by difference. Freedom of speech is not absolute. Indeed, my own speech was limited in being told I can't knock over their sign. If you're standing on a corner preaching about how one race is an abomination, you should be shooed away, otherwise you're just another Hitler-lite.

Right now, tribalism is ripping Syria apart and is about to renew a long-dormant civil war in my adopted country of Lebanon, a Biblical land where ancient, tribal hatreds have allowed no peace throughout most of human history. My friends have left, or they are afraid, and my heart breaks every time I think of the stupidity of what they are fighting for or against. Lebanon is a beautiful country, perhaps too beautiful for most human hearts, as they have consistently tried to destroy it. Hezbollah has been legitimized by people who feel they are victims. Victims. Of what? Because their beliefs differ than others? The other day, the Lebanese couldn't leave their country because the road to the airport was blocked off by these "Party of God" followers. So many Lebanese are locked out of their country, their home, because a few stupid idiots believe in some godforsaken ideology. It makes no sense. The Lebanese people as a whole are some of the most generous, life-loving people I have ever encountered on the planet.

The divisive mentality of the Syrian and Lebanese sects is no different than that of the Black Hebrew Israelites, or the KKK, or even seemingly benign groups who define themselves by their ideologies like the Tea Party or 2Aers or Social Democrats or libertarians or Blah Blahs Anonymous. Ideology is a declaration of difference, that your beliefs are right while others are not, that you are somehow better than other people. Ideology invites conflict. Conflict kills people. Species reproduce so they continue to survive on this planet, and conflict goes against that basic biological purpose.

I'm not naive enough to think I can change people's minds when they are so firmly rooted in ideology, but if even one person turns away from hate, it's worth it. When I left the restaurant after the cop let me go after the leader decided not to press charges FOR KNOCKING OVER A BOARD COVERED WITH PICTURES PRINTED FROM THE INTERNET, I felt like I was going to declare war against that group using all legal means necessary. But to "declare war" is by the very language an act of violence, and I abhor violence. Violence is for the weak of mind. So I'll think of other means to stop their propagation of hate. I'll talk to the owners of local businesses about working to rid our public space of this hate. I'll go to a community meeting to bring it up. I'll stand on that corner with a petition and get my neighbors to sign it. But I'm not going to sit silently and let it go on.

People say, just ignore it and they'll go away. No, they don't. People say, it doesn't affect my life. Yes, it does, and even if it didn't, what is wrong with you to not want to make this tiny little rock we are all forced to live on a better place? As one of my heroes wisely said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." On April 4, 1968, he was murdered for his work for peace, justice, and fairness. But his legacy gave us so much.

Another hero of mine said more simply:

There is no them
There's only us
There's only you
There's only me

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